Sunday, June 25, 2023

The Right's Circular Firing Squad

Sohrab Ahmari, Ross Douthat, and David French

Can't we all just get along? Of course we can't; that would be too easy!

The squabbles between the "new right" and the libertarian-oriented free-marketeers continue, and they show no signs of abating. In fact, the fissures look to be expanding, as NatCons ramp up their attacks on "zombie-Reaganism" and more establishment-types accuse populists of being undisciplined and overly pugnacious. 

David French, a prominent anti-Trump conservative and former editor of The Dispatch, has a Twitter feed inundated with the kind of leftist rhetoric you'd expect from Buzzfeed or Jacobin. Jonah Goldberg has also been a leading anti-populist voice on the right, often criticizing the still burgeoning MAGA cadre. 

But make no mistake, French and Goldberg are highly intelligent. In fact, I would recommend listening to The Remnant (Goldberg's podcast) or going through French's old substack, French Press (archived on The Dispatch website.) What you'll find is, mostly, thoughtful commentary. Unfortunately, much, though not all of it, has been tainted by anti-Trump fanaticism. 

Goldberg going after Gorka:

The pugnacious populists, however, don't get off scot-free. Oftentimes, their social media presence is unnecessarily combative and, sometimes, tasteless. Though there's nothing wrong with critiquing the old GOP playbook (in fact, I encourage it!), there's a thoughtful way to do it. 

Josh Hammer, who I am a big fan of, lays it on a tad thick here:  

If our goal is to take on the radical left, this is no way to do it. We may disagree on economic policy, foreign interventionism, and decorum - but we can all agree that far-left decadence is facilitating the erosion of the West's moral and cultural fabric. Either we hold our noses and join forces, or we succumb to a very dangerous movement.  

Sunday, June 18, 2023

A Well-Balanced-Pendulum

Gateway Center Demolition area, Pittsburgh 1950 © Elliott Erwitt / Magnum Photos Courtesy: Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh

"Marianne Williamson is the most communitarian candidate in the pack," Frank wrote one post ago. It's best to read that first. He's right to notice the thoughtfulness that Williamson brings to the debate, and the flair that is appealing to everyone just a little disillusioned with the state of American society and the politics that gnaw at it. It isn't about healthcare, she proclaimed, it's about what is making us sick, which might also be the healthcare we are trying to "fix." 

How many problems there are in this world that are only so because we need them; solutions are necessarily secondary because they must make a grand appearance to be believable—for those disillusioned, it's a magic trick without amusement; for the duped, it's messianic. But solutions rarely ever solve because there is no political value in alleviating suffering. Everything that is naturally concluded ceases to exist; everything is, by nature, self-preserving. The sad plight of the conservative is that he knows that just because we seek to preserve we are not guaranteed success; and almost always, given a plentiful amount of time, of which there is no shortage beyond us, we are assured failure. In fact, preservation, a necessity for self-centered man, is a reaction to the ungrateful misery of revolution and the unremitting linearity of time. But all people and their creations are preserving, especially those looking to do so at the expense of others, i.e., big pharma. 

One of the comments to Frank's post was also insightful. "JerseyPatriot1776" noted that community must be built organically. (Or, as Frank reiterates, there must be a spiritual reawakening). He continued to posit that because heterogeneity fractured American community, then "should the American Nation exist in some form, there will exist many different enclaves of community at a micro level."

I'll add that while community must be built organically, believing this is not enough to make Williamson the right candidate, just the best of her kind. National conservatism is preferable to many because it's seen as slowing degeneration, hoping to guide the ethos, or re-legislate morality. It would be honest to admit that a communitarian society is conditioned on some some cultural restriction, which presupposes a centralized power (whether that is the state or something else). Of course, the more centralized a power becomes, the nearer our strangulation. Yet at the opposite extreme, the more the central power disperses, the quicker our unmooring: We begin to rely on the unwritten, until we see everything around us as foreign and seek to recreate in our image. The social contract becomes a whimsical French document on the devil it does not know, rather than a prudent American acknowledgment of what already binds it. 

“The man of conservative temperament believes that a known good is not lightly to be surrendered for an unknown better.” —Michael Oakeshott, Rationalism in Politics and other essays (1962)

 The mission is to nurture a well-balanced pendulum. 

Sunday, June 4, 2023

Who is the Communitarian Candidate?

Of the dozen or so Republican and Democratic candidates who have announced White House bids so far, who among them are talking about the revitalization of America's civic culture and communitarian spirit? The answer: few, if any. Outside of the occasional "we are stronger together" platitude, both parties seem to care little about restoring a Tocquevillian America. 

The progressive left and the National Conservative right both seem to be accepting, if not blatantly supportive, of the burgeoning role of the State in American affairs. And, as Tocquevillians posit, an encroaching State diminishes the robustness of community life, made up of families and small localities. In fact, in many ways, these two factions, who claim to despise one another, are actually very much alike. 

Will Hoyt eloquently describes this kind of horseshoe theory in a recent article for Front Porch Republic:

Current-day iterations of progressive and conservative positions tend to generate excitement because they are billed as new, be that iteration the current New Left critique of FDR's reliance on southern Democratic Jim Crow-oriented political machines to secure a New Deal, or the current New Right "common good" critique of neo-con belief that Catholic social teaching and American founding principles are compatible, or the Trump-inspired critique of "theocon" agendas and Reaganite economics. Ultimately, though, each of these ascendent political ideologies privileges a strong, massively centralized state...

So back to the candidates...

Who are the ones that are falling into the right/left political horseshoe, and who are rising above and promoting a communitarian image of America? Again, we are looking at slim pickings here. But, there is one candidate in particular that stands out to me...

Marianne Williamson

I know, I know. You're thinking I've lost my mind. But the fact of the matter is that Marianne Williamson is, at least rhetorically, the most communitarian candidate in the pack. Though she is often brushed away as some sort of tarot card-reading loon, she offers incredibly thoughtful and intelligent insights about the state of American society. 

I often think about this moment in the 2020 Democratic primary debates:

Williamson, instead of opining on what kind of healthcare policy we should adopt, dared to question why so many Americans get sick in the first place. And it's undoubtedly true that a healthy community life is contingent on a healthy citizenry. Policy prescription, though, falls short. Williamson understands that what is needed is an ethos change. Or rather, a spiritual reawakening. 

Or better yet, check out this exchange she had with Sean Hannity last month (skip to 6:00):

Here, Williamson suggests that we combat the inevitable human feeling of alienation with love and community. "We are here to love one another", she says, "We do not feel deeply at home on a spiritual level on this planet because this world is not based on love the way it should be." It doesn't get more communitarian than that...

Now, I also understand that Williamson is obviously a progressive. She does not necessarily see an expanding federal government as a bad thing. That's not very Tocquevillian. But, no one is perfect!

Do yourself a favor and watch this 1997 talk from Williamson on volunteerism and the civil sector. What you'll hear is someone who embodies small-c conservatism and civic life.